Caitlin Clark’s legacy far greater than her records


Sunday afternoon, Caitlin Clark made history.

She wrote her name into college basketball lore, becoming Division I’s all-time leading scorer. She passed the great Pete Maravich (3,667 points) with a second-quarter free throw as part of another typical brilliant performance: 35 points, nine assists and a win over No. 2 Ohio State in front of a sold-out crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

The record (3,685 points and counting) is of course impressive, right along with all of her achievements through a transcendent four-year college career. Her 56 30-point performances. Her 17 triple-doubles. Her 88 straight games with at least one made 3-pointer. Becoming the first Division I women’s player with 3,000 points and 1,000 assists.

It’s not what her college legacy will, or should, be.

No, Clark’s contributions go so far beyond how many points “Ponytail Pete” — the nickname she was once given — will finish this year with, how many assists she will stockpile — Clark in sixth all time among women in that category ) or even how deep Iowa plays into March.

Clark became an icon at Iowa, a superstar who made her sport matter more than it ever has. The slick 6-foot guard from West Des Moines, Iowa, has grown it. She has advanced it. Clark made the women’s Final Four seem like the big event last April — bigger than the men’s. I certainly felt some regret not being in Dallas to see Iowa and Clark take on juggernaut LSU in the title game.

That game drew more than 9.9 million viewers on ABC. No other women’s college basketball game has ever done better. It was also the most streamed sporting event on ESPN+. According to Sportico, Iowa’s ticket revenue went from $767,069 in 2021-22 season to $1.4 million in 2022-23. Sports talk-show hosts who would ignore the women’s game have begun talking about it, primarily because of Clark, who announced on Thursday that she would not use the COVID-19 waiver from 2020-21 for a fifth season and will enter the 2024 WNBA draft instead.

Caitlin Clark (22) celebrates the win over the Ohio State Buckeyes during the second half at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

You have to go all the way back to Zion Williamson in 2018-19 to find a men’s college basketball player who was even close to as popular. Of course, so many of the top players on the men’s side rarely spend more than a handful of months on a college campus, and plenty of them don’t even attend college anymore.

Timing is part of this, because Clark came along during the social media era, when everything is magnified. Maybe in a different time, her impact would’ve been lessened. Not in the Twitter and Instagram age. Girls want to be like her, lining up for her autograph. Iowa set attendance records wherever it went.

Most impressive is how she handled all the attention. She has dealt with the pressure like a pro, following up last year’s memorable season with an even better year, averaging an absurd 32.2 points, 8.7 assists and shooting 39.5 percent from 3-point range. Iowa, coming off its first Final Four berth since 1993, is the sixth-ranked team in the country despite losing its second- and third-leading scorers. When Clark set the women’s Division I scoring record, passing Washington’s Kelsey Plum’s mark of 3,527 points on Feb. 15, she did so with her usual flair, by draining one of her trademark logo 3-pointers. For an exclamation point that day, she set an Iowa single-game scoring record with 49 points.

Next month, Clark will undoubtedly repeat as the National Player of the Year, becoming the first woman to do so since Connecticut’s Breanna Stewart won three straight from 2014-16. Stewart, playing on absolutely loaded teams, won four national championships.

There is this idea, suggested recently by ESPN analyst Jay Williams, that Clark is not great because she hasn’t led the Hawkeyes to a national championship. He compared her to UConn legends like Stewart who won titles. It was a ridiculous take, but it was another example of her impact.

On ESPN men’s “College GameDay” show, she was a topic of conversation. She will be as big a story there is in March until Iowa is done playing. She is the biggest star in college basketball by a large margin and will no doubt shatter more ratings records later this month.

Buckeyes guard Madison Greene (0) attempts to defend the shot from Caitlin Clark (22) during the first half at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
Caitlin Clark (22) signs autographs for fans after the victory against the Ohio State Buckeyes. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

On Sunday, she set a scoring record. But the significance of that mark pales in comparison to what she has meant to women’s college basketball.

Caitlin Clark has brought new customers and fans to her sport. She has increased its popularity and reach. The game will benefit in the years to come because of her.

Game of the Week

No. 9 North Carolina at No. 10 Duke, Saturday, 6:30 p.m.

North Carolina won the first matchup in Chapel Hill by nine. Since, Duke has looked like the better team, going 7-1 with all of its wins by eight points or more. The Tar Heels, meanwhile, have suffered losses to Clemson and Syracuse and have struggled against the likes of Miami, N.C. State and Virginia. This showdown could determine the ACC regular-season champion — North Carolina holds a one-game lead — and land the winner the No. 2 seed in the East Region.

Mark Mitchell goes to the basket against Taine Murray #10 and Ryan Dunn #13 of the Virginia Cavaliers during the second half of the game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Getty Images

Sweet 16

A prediction of the top four seeds in the NCAA Tournament (listed in order):

1: Houston, Purdue, Connecticut, Tennessee

2: Arizona, North Carolina, Marquette, Iowa State

3: Kansas, Alabama, Baylor, Creighton

4: Duke, Auburn, San Diego State, Illinois

Stock Watch



I was firmly against Gonzaga’s inclusion in the NCAA Tournament because of its thin résumé. My opinion changed this past week. The Zags didn’t just prove they belong in the dance, they showed they shouldn’t even be close to the bubble after locking up a pair of Quad 1 wins on the road at San Francisco and No. 17 Saint Mary’s by a combined 31 points. Forward Graham Ike was dominant, averaging 25 points, 8.5 rebounds and two blocks in the two wins, and Creighton transfer Ryan Nembhard has found his game of late after an inconsistent start. Gonzaga is now 11th in adjusted offensive efficiency after torching the Gaels’ lights-out defense. This is a team nobody will want to see in their bracket.


On Feb. 7, after the Wildcats’ sixth loss in seven games, the NCAA Tournament seemed like a pipe dream. But Villanova has responded to that rough stretch with a furious finish to the regular season, five wins in six games to play its way into the mix. Wins over bubble teams Seton Hall and Providence have been significant, along with senior guard Justin Moore coming alive after a frustrating season limited by injuries. If Villanova can just split its final two games — at Seton Hall and home for No. 12 Creighton — it will enter the Big East Tournament all but guaranteed of a spot in the dance despite its three Quad 3 losses. A NET ranking of 26 and 10 Quad 1 and 2 wins are better numbers than most bubble teams have.

Villanova Wildcats guard Justin Moore shoots against the Providence Friars during the second half at Amica Mutual Pavilion. Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports



A three-bid ACC is very much in play. Duke, North Carolina and Clemson are the lone locks as we enter the final week of the regular season. Virginia and Wake Forest are both headed in the wrong direction. Virginia has dropped four of its last six games, hasn’t scored more than 63 points in the losses and has dropped six of eight Quad 1 chances. Wake Forest is coming off road losses to Notre Dame and Virginia Tech, a pair of teams basically playing out the string, and is now 1-6 in Quad 1 games. A Syracuse win at Clemson on Tuesday could make the Orange a realistic contender, although their NET ranking of 84 and 6-9 record in Quad 1 and 2 games still makes them feel like a long shot. The league could use a surprise team making a big run in the conference tournament.

Mike Hopkins

Admittedly, I felt Syracuse made a huge mistake allowing Hopkins to get away. In hindsight, the move hasn’t worked nearly as well as expected. After a pair of 20-win seasons to start out at Washington, the Huskies are looking at a fifth straight year without a postseason tournament. They haven’t won more than 17 games since 2018-19, they are three games under .500 in the pedestrian Pac-12 and Hopkins could be out of a job soon. The highly regarded transfer class, which included Paul Mulcahy (Rutgers) and Sahvir Wheeler (Kentucky), hasn’t come close to reaching expectations.


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